Consuelo Ebanks, 65, died Tuesday, 7 May, at the Cayman Islands Hospital on Grand Cayman.
The second time Tradewinds performed in Cayman, 1980 or so, I recall like yesterday standing in the area where we would play, as a group of women came striding through the crowd, fired up and ready for the fete.
As the calypsonian Shadow put it famously in a song, “They had come out to play.” At the head of the bunch, the loudest mouth belonged to a tall, lanky brown-skinned woman with red hair down to her waist, delivering some salty language as she passed. She had flamboyance written all over her, and she was moving at speed. She looked like she was going to a fire.
It was quite a sight, let me tell you, as the crowd parted and let the phalanx through with red hair in command. Even in Trinidad, the home of display, I hadn’t seen one quite like that. When I asked who she was, a Caymanian next to me smiled and shook his head, “That’s Consuelo Ebanks, bobo; she not easy.”
He was so right.
In the 25 years I spent in Cayman I got to know a number of singular people, and Consuelo was one of the more singular ones. As I write this, on a Tuesday afternoon, having just heard that she has passed away, it occurred to me, as I said to someone in Cayman, that it’s sad when a life ends, so feel that for her, certainly, but temper that with the consideration that Consuelo was one of those rare people who lived precisely the life she wanted. She was no clueless boozer. When you got to know her, behind the brashness and the frivolity, Consuelo had a quick incisive mind and she knew full well that she was ravaging her body with these substances, but clearly she got some satisfaction or assurance or repose from this mode of living, and mode of living it was indeed. It was her choice unwavering.
Part of the “not easy” label she acquired had to do with her forthrightness. Lots of times you hear people expressing regret about things they wished they had said or done. “I should have told that bastard to his face what I thought of him.” Or, “I don’t know why I didn’t speak out on that issue; there was always something holding me back. I regret that now.”
That didn’t apply to Consuelo.
Among her choices in life was the singular disposition to speak bluntly, to pronounce on sensitive issues making points that most of us would think but not say. Consuelo would often deliver hard truths, whether to English governor or Jamaican gardener, and she would do it at full volume, regardless of the surroundings.
If she didn’t like you, you knew it. She was particularly averse to pomposity and more than once I’ve seen prominent people cautiously sidle away at Ebanks’ approach. When she felt like a drink, she didn’t hold back, and she never sought excuses for her behaviour.
For me (and I’m sure I speak for Henry Muttoo) an enduring memory of her is that night, some years ago, when, temporarily off the booze, she stood on that Rundown platform, in a worn straw hat and floppy dress and became the quintessential Caymanian woman of humour, wisdom and strength, completely on her own in the stage light. It’s an image that many Caymanians know.
I should note that she was one of stalwarts in the first Rundown shows and I particularly remember a conversation with her several years later when I was grumbling about the amount of time and energy it took to write the script and music for the show every year. In her usual fashion, Consuelo came right at me. “God gave you the ability to write songs and scripts, Mr. Martins. What the hell you complaining about?”
Some of us may regret that her abilities behind the excesses and the bluster were never fully developed. Henry and I would often remark at the natural dramatic talent and singular expression and timing she displayed on stage and at the quickness of her mind and wit, but any regret for those things not being developed are likely just our own. Consuelo Ebanks lived the life she wanted, hands down, so let us raise a shout for her on that.
In the end, she can’t have left any stone unturned, any experience not tried, any excess not embraced, any miscreant not cussed out, any phony not exposed and definitely any vodka left to evaporate.
Many people sing the Paul Anka song, but Consuelo truly “did it her way.”